West Lebanon library to keep backing Tor

Last modified: 9/16/2015 1:11:57 AM
The Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon will reactivate its piece of the anonymous internet browsing network Tor, despite law enforcement’s concerns that the network might be used for criminal activities.

The Lebanon Library Board of Trustees let stand its unanimous June decision to devote some of the library’s excess bandwidth to a node, or “relay,” for Tor, after a full room of about 50 residents and other interested members of the public expressed their support for Lebanon’s participation in the system at a meeting Tuesday night.

“With any freedom there is risk,” library board Chairman Francis Oscadal said. “It came to me that I could vote in favor of the good 
. . . or I could vote against the bad.

“I’d rather vote for the good because there is value to this.”

Library administrators last month suspended the relay, part of a network of circuits used to divert users’ traffic to keep their locations secret, following a discussion with officials from the city manager’s office and Lebanon police. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had alerted city officials to the fact that Tor sometimes is used by criminals to distribute child pornography or illegal drugs, among other abuses.

At Tuesday’s meeting, both Deputy City Manager Paula Maville and Deputy Police Chief Phillip Roberts said they had not intended to “strong-arm” the library board into making a particular decision.

“We simply came in as law enforcement and said, ‘These are the concerns,’ ” Roberts said during the meeting. “We wanted to inform everyone so it was an educated decision by everyone involved.”

Maville said the issue shouldn’t be viewed as pitting freedom of speech against law enforcement, or the city of Lebanon against the Department of Homeland Security.

“This is about making an informed decision,” she said. “Whatever you need to do, we’re here to support that.”

Alison Macrina, the founder of the Library Freedom Project, which brought Tor to Kilton Public Library, said the risk of criminal activity taking place on Tor is not a sufficient reason to suspend its use. For comparison, she said, the city is not going to shut down its roads simply because some people choose to drive drunk.

Tor’s privacy is valued by a diverse group of users, including survivors of domestic violence seeking protection from their abusers, journalists around the world, political activists and law enforcement officials themselves, Macrina said.

If Tor shut down tomorrow, those attempting to break the law would have many other opportunities to do so, Macrina said. But those simply seeking the privacy Tor affords without breaking the law would not have another option, she said.

Through the Library Freedom Project’s pilot project, the Kilton Public Library is the first library in the country to host a Tor relay. Macrina said she hopes more libraries across the country and the world will follow suit.

Reading (Vt.) Public Library Trustee Mildred Waterfall came to Lebanon for Tuesday’s meeting and said the Reading board will discuss hosting a Tor relay at its next meeting.

A former teacher, Waterfall likened the idea of taking Tor away to prevent the criminal activity of a few to a new teacher punishing the entire class for one student’s bad behavior.

“That’s what it feels like,” she said before the meeting.

Lebanon resident and library employee Maria Ortiz, a native of Colombia, told the crowd she wished Tor had been available in her home country 15 years ago.

“Democracy in South America is very powerful on paper, but in America it’s powerful not only on paper,” Ortiz said.

She said the library’s support for freedom of speech “made me proud to be here.”

Others in the crowd similarly expressed support for the library’s initial decision to participate in Tor.

“I felt a tremendous sense of pride that it was my community that was leading the way on this,” Lebanon resident Lee Sussman said. “I would feel very disappointed to be part of a community that shut it down after it 

Lebanon resident Raymond Hood said leaving Tor would threaten the freedoms gained in the Revolutionary War.

“What would our forefathers think?” Hood said.

The issues of privacy and intellectual freedom inspired by the Tor relay at the Kilton Public Library spurred approximately 10 people to gather before the meeting on the front lawn of the Lebanon Public Library on East Park Street.

They held various signs, including, “Live free . . . or Tor. Free the Library.”

Plainfield resident Bill McGonigle, one of the rally’s organizers, said he ran a Tor relay from his business in Lebanon in 2010 in an effort to assist dissidents in Iran. “The worst-case scenario is people don’t feel free to speak their minds,” he said.

Former Lebanon resident Carla Gericke drove up from Manchester for the rally and the meeting. Originally from South Africa, which she referred to as a “police state,” Gericke said she was concerned that the United States is putting restrictions on intellectual freedom.

“I’m seeing how this country is changing and not in a positive direction,” she said.

Library Director Sean Fleming said the library surveyed residents and other members of the public. Among those who responded, 13 out of 14 residents supported reinstating the Tor relay and 74 out of 75 nonresidents also supported the network, Fleming said.

“I recommend that we reinstate the Tor relay,” he said. “Our board approved it once.”

Library Trustee Susan Desrosiers said the discussion had answered her questions and the board’s June decision should stand.

“It’s up to the administration now to start it back up,” she said.

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